August 2nd, 2004
From the 12th to the 14th centuries, Japan was ruled from Kamakura by the Minamoto shoguns. Today, it's a seaside resort (near Enoshima), and is famed for having a large, outdoor statue of Buddha. And that's where I went last Friday with a friend. After enjoying some really good noodles (they make 'em in front of you) at a shop in Yokohama's Chinatown, we headed over to Kamakura in the hopes that maybe the on-and-off Typhoon (#10) weather would clear well enough so we could enjoy the beach. Alas, no--even though we reached the beach and the sun was out, the waves were too high; a red flag was flying, meaning you can't go in there, bub. And laying on the beach didn't work too well, either--the sun was just too danged hot to stay under it for too long. Still, we enjoyed the town, and went to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, where the photos below were taken, save the last one. We didn't go to the shrine per se, but visited the lotus flower gardens named after the Heike and the Minamoto (two clans that battled each other), each with different-colored lotus flowers. The place has quite a bit of wildlife--the trees are filled with herons, large white long-necked birds, and the ponds are inhabited by rather lively turtles that come up out of the pond when people come to feed them. While taking a leisurely walk around the neighborhood, we came across a shop with a rather imposing name: And we took a side trip when we saw direction to a temple called "Komyoji," supposedly one kilometer distant. However, despite following directions, we never found it--only new signs to other temples and shrines, which we decided not to follow. After all, "fool me once, shame on me, fool me, can't get fooled again." Or something like that. But what we did find was a local temple that had this rather imposing fellow guarding the outside. He seemed rather annoyed to be having visitors, so we quickly prayed and skedaddled. One of the topics that came up from seeing the Heike pond, by the way, was the Heike Crab. It's a crab found in Japan with the face of a scowling samurai on its carapace. I remember first seeing it in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series quite a while back, as an example of accidental forced evolution. The idea is that of the crab that were being collected by the fishermen, one had a mutation that made its carapace look a little like a face. Superstitious, the fishermen who caught this crab and its descendants threw it back--so it survived and reproduced, more than the others. Over time, successive mutations made the face more and more like a scowling face of a samurai, the best carapace a crab could wish to have to avoid being eaten. The legend of the crabs is that they were created after a terrible water-borne battle between the Heike and Minamoto clans, which the Heike lost. The dead samurai, lost to the waters, are said to have be reborn as the crabs--hence the name "Heike Crab." The crabs with the human faces happened to emerge in that area at about that time. And it was that battle which led to Minamoto dominance and the beginning of the Kamakura Era. Just a little fun fact there.